Making every lesson a reading lesson

According to the 2016 PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) results, 78% of South Africa’s Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning in the language their school uses for teaching and learning in grades 1 – 3. Even if learners are able to decode the words, they are unable to ‘locate and retrieve explicitly stated information’ – and boys are a full year behind girls.

It was against this background that BRIDGE’s Teacher Development Community of Practice, at its first meeting of 2018, focused on the teaching of reading.

One of our guest speakers was Edna Freinkel, a lifelong literacy advocate and teacher of reading. Edna has personally taught hundreds of children and adults to read, and has reached thousands more through the Readucate Trust, which trains teachers and literacy instructors in a multi-dimensional method that develops reading and cognitive skills while building a positive self-image.  

Readucate’s method stems from the work of Edna’s mother, Rebecca Ostrowiak. It has been developed and refined over more than 70 years, through the experience of teaching children and adults with a variety of learning needs, and with the help and encouragement of academics and other professionals.

Readucate’s multi-dimensional approach to teaching reading integrates the senses and both brain hemispheres, which caters for all learning styles and enhances the benefits for every learner.

The 6-legged ‘reading animal’ pictured above represents the principles of Readucate’s method:

Attitude, of both the teacher and the learner, governs all aspects of learning.  “As teachers we have to expect our learners to want to learn, and to be able to learn. Help your learners to have a good attitude towards themselves – and don’t be over-critical of yourself.”

The alphabet is taught as a ‘perceptual exercise’. Letter names, their sounds, and how to write them are learnt simultaneously and systematically.  “I believe that the insistence on teaching phonics only and leaving out the names of the letters is the greatest educational crime throughout the western world – and certainly we have a reading problem throughout the western world.”

Spelling – spelling rules are the code to reading, and the application of spelling rules enhances cognitive skills. “Children need to know that just as people are different and can speak in different voices, letters can form different sounds.”  Exceptions are taught as sight words.  A good understanding of spelling rules also leads to readable written work.

Comprehension requires the development of critical, courageous and independent thinking. “It is very important to get a discussion going, starting with the title, e.g. ‘What do you think is going to happen in this story, from the title? As the story progresses, questions like:  ‘What do you think, and why?’ and ‘Is this true? Is it possible? Is it right?’ and ‘Why do you agree or disagree?’ help children to develop critical thinking skills as they learn to understand both the written words and the unstated ideas in the given text.  

Writing and communication – once reading material has been decoded and understood, children have to be able to use well-thought-out, logical language and clear expression to speak and write about what they have read.   

Memory training – Readucate’s approach to memory training emphasises sequencing, integrates the senses, is suitable for all learning styles and develops self-confidence and motivation.

Study skills – this includes learning to summarise, to take notes, to make schedules and to manage time. Routine is important, with a balance of work and play.  “Study skills cannot really work if the five previous legs of the ‘reading animal’ haven’t been mastered.”

A notable idea to emerge from Edna’s presentation was the value of making explicit the processes that underlie reading and learning. Learners are taught spelling rules, and are encouraged to discover rules for themselves.  They are made aware of what it means to learn, and are taught how to use the inter-play between the brain and the senses to enhance memory.

Another significant point is that learners are made aware of their own agency. Children are directed to ‘be their own teacher’ and encouraged to judge their own work.  “Children have to know they have the gifts within themselves to help them learn.”

Tips for making every lesson a reading lesson:

– At the start of a lesson, highlight new or important words you will be using. Have the children learn to spell the words. Discuss the words, asking questions to get the children thinking about their meaning, and then define them.

– Use the words frequently to show how they are used and to build familiarity.

– At the end of the lesson, get the children to write down the words, and to check that they have written them correctly.

–  Have the children write one sentence on what they learnt in that lesson.  .